Many people dye their hair as a matter of preference or style. But the matter of hair dye safety is one worth visiting. Here’s what you need to know.
Are hair dyes safe?
The decision to change your hair color may be a hard one. Some studies have linked hair dyes with a higher risk of certain cancers, while other studies have not found this link. Most hair dyes also don't have to go through safety testing that other cosmetic color additives do before hitting store shelves. Women are often on their own trying to figure out whether hair dyes are safe.
When hair dyes first came out, the main ingredient in coal-tar hair dye caused allergic reactions in some people. Most hair dyes are now made from petroleum sources. But FDA still considers them to be coal-tar dyes. This is because they have some of the same compounds found in these older dyes.
Cosmetic makers have stopped using things known to cause cancer in animals. For example, 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine (4MMPD) or 4-methoxy-m-phenylenediamine sulfate (4MMPD sulfate) are no longer used. But chemicals made almost the same way have replaced some of the cancer-causing compounds. Some experts feel that these newer ingredients aren't very different from the things they're replacing.
Experts suggest that you may reduce your risk of cancer by using less hair dye over time. You may also reduce you risk by not dyeing your hair until it starts to gray.
What precautions should I take when I dye my hair?
You should follow these safety tips when dyeing your hair:
- Don't leave the dye on your head any longer than needed.
- Rinse your scalp thoroughly with water after use.
- Wear gloves when applying hair dye.
- Carefully follow the directions in the hair dye package.
- Never mix different hair dye products.
- Be sure to do a patch test for allergic reactions before applying the dye to your hair. Almost all hair dye products include instructions for doing a patch test. It's important to do this each time you dye your hair. Your hairdresser should also do the patch test before dyeing your hair. To test, put a dab of hair dye behind your ear, and don't wash it off for two days. If you don't have any signs of allergic reaction, such as itching, burning, or redness at the test spot, you can be somewhat sure that you won't have a reaction to the dye applied to your hair. If you do react to the patch test, do the same test with different brands or colors until you find one to which you're not allergic.
- Never dye your eyebrows or eyelashes. An allergic reaction to dye could cause swelling or increase risk of infection in the eye area. This can harm the eye and even cause blindness. Spilling dye into the eye by accident could also cause permanent damage. FDA bans the use of hair dyes for eyelash and eyebrow tinting or dyeing even in beauty salons.
Is it safe to dye my hair when I'm pregnant?
We don't know much about the safety of hair dyes during pregnancy. It's likely that when you apply hair dye, only a small amount is absorbed into your system. So very little chemicals, if any, would be able to get to your baby. In the few animal and human studies that have been done, no changes were seen in the developing baby. Talk with your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
This article first appeared on WomensHealth.gov.